“Viral With”

Two papers and a conversation: Dr Zoë Mendelson (Head of Painting & Printmaking, The Glasgow School of Art), The Viral and the Expanded Field and Marita Fraser (Lecturer, MLitt Fine Art Practice, The Glasgow School of Art), Carelessness as a Method for Care.

This event took place on Wednesday 19th October 2022.

Zoë Mendelson and Marita Fraser will present their ideas in the form of a written correspondence, working outwards from the experience of making work in the strange hum of the pandemic and its wider associations. The writing is a deliberate connecting of worlds from one mode of working to another. It has the feel of a correspondence across a distance. This connects to Marita’s work on her methods of ‘speaking with’, and Zoë’s presentation about the viral as a form of flow or transmission of idea. Each presentation will have its own discreet section, followed by this correspondence with each other – grappling with spaces and interiors, metaphorical and resistant in developing a methodology that opens up spaces to think through collectively.

Zoë Mendelson will present new research into the virus as metaphor, considering applied uses for an examination of its spread, mutation and its ambitions. Drawing on expanded field art practice and the medical, this research uses models from art practice to reconsider the site of the pandemic home and body as host, referring to Susan Sontag’s work, Illness as Metaphor and Mary Douglas’ ‘Purity and Danger’.

This is a presentation and text about the virus as, itself, a body and entity intent on spread and self-alteration – and somehow resolutely destined for metaphor. The forms of moral contagion applied to disease that would make its metaphors disquieting or subject to critical scrutiny are not felt by the virus, which is an agent or distributor.

To think of the viral as distibutor-messenger-producer (as opposed to illness) allows it to signify and reflect our behaviours as it moves among us, shifting or reinforcing bio-power, reflecting upon the social body and influencing global networks of communication. There are no zoom museum events without the virus, no conflicts over its vaccine distribution, no hyper- cartography of codes bringing endless packages to our doors, and no global movements of capital and education to the home. The virus itself has a reach and impact that for most is only associatively connected to ill-being.

Expanded field art practice – spatialised, event-like and already fluent in the metaphorical, alongside notions of connectivity, the breaking down of boundaried silos and of querying the architectures of production – provides valuable shared languages with the virus’ reach. This exchange is useful in that it can provide critical forms of visualisation, beyond data exposing and iterating.

Zoë Mendelson shielded for 59 weeks from March 2020 and in this paper that combines visual practice, critical theory and auto-theoretical writing she will draw on her experience of the home-as-skin suggesting how wellbeing as a success narrative dissolves the values of productive vulnerability. Expanded field artworks discussed in this paper will include seminal works by Michael Landy and Fischli/Weiss as well as contemporary works by Mika Rotenberg and Karla Black.

Marita Fraser will present new research into notions of Care in Fine Art methods, in particular, the role carelessness plays in opening spaces of refusal from which artists and art writers draw from, to create new spaces of resistance in practice. This presentation draws on expanded practices which connect to resistance and refusal as method and material to unpack the materiality of what constitutes carelessness as care.

This presentation examines how by aligning carelessness alongside radical refusal, the practices of Yvonne Rainer, Carla Lonzi and others locates us as readers, listeners, audience in radical proximity to a multitude of bodily spaces that resist patriarchal and capitalist structures. Through her own practice of performative, poetic and fictive writing and a method Marita describes as a “speaking with”, she looks to come close to what carelessness in careful art practices might look like.

This presentation asks how then might refusal operate within movement practice, textually, and in the body? Where does concern for care sit within spaces of refusal, what is an act of carelessness that enables new forms of Care?

About the speakers

Marita Fraser is an artist, writer and researcher who exhibits internationally with institutions including Kunsthaus Vienna, Städtisches Museum Engen, Atelierhaus Salzamt Linz, and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. Recent publications include the article ‘Careless Reply’, Careless, Blackshaw, G. and Kivland S. (eds), MA Bibliothèque, London, 2021, and co-editor of I care by…, RCA Communiqué, 2022.

In 2016 she was artist in resident at Museums Quartier Vienna (Q21) and in 2017 she was awarded the ArtReview Casa Wabi Residency Award. She is a Lecturer at The Glasgow School of Art on the Fine Art Practice post-graduate MLitt programme and is currently completing a PhD by practice at the Royal College of Art titled Speaking With: New Forms of Notation for Scoring Excess.

Dr Zoë Mendelson is an artist and writer with an expanded field practice that owes its spatialisation, historical narratives and compositional framework to painting. She is Head of Painting & Printmaking at The Glasgow School of Art. Her research interests are focused on disorder – in psychological terms – as a culturally produced phenomenon, in parallel to its clinical and spatial counterparts. She is interested in how culture co-opts psychological and medical motifs and spectacularises them, leading to complex and widespread mis-readings.

Mendelson’s PhD, at Central Saint Martins (2015), was titled Psychologies and Spaces of Accumulation: The hoard as collagist methodology (and other stories). This research located and spatialised systematised archiving alongside seemingly pathological object relations, and included relationships drawn between urban space and wellness. She has made works that consider the clinic as cultural site; histories of hygiene; wellness and the city, our relationships to waste, and commerce as a viral metaphor.

In 2015 Zoë was a selected member of the AHRC/Wellcome Trust funded New Generations programme for researchers in the Medical Humanities at the University of Durham.

Zoë co-curates the network paintingresearch with Geraint Evans and is co-founder and editor of The Edit, an online and inclusive, de-canonised bibliography for students in Fine Art and related fields, now used in Arts education internationally.

Mendelson’s work has been shown/performed regularly nationally and internationally in public and commercial spaces. These have included Fondation Cartier, Paris (2005), Chapter, Cardiff (2006), CRAC, Alsace (2008), Barbican Centre, London (2015), Kunstmuseum Olten, Switzerland (2015) and Science Museum London (2018).

Zoë has a profound interest in ill-being as a place of potential agency and advocacy – at odds with a current focus on well-being as a ‘success’ narrative.

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